Squirrel [Tree rat, Fuzzy tailed sewer rat; (family Sciuridae)]

Squirrels are divided into tree living (arboreal) and burrowing ground squirrel categories. Some of the arboreal varieties are known as "flying squirrels" because they've developed large flaps of skin that allow them to glide from tree to tree. Flying squirrels are too small to be of culinary interest.

The photo is of an eastern fox squirrel, the largest North American arboreal squirrel, weighing as much as 2.2 pounds. This squirrel and the very similar eastern gray squirrel are large, aggressive and adaptable. Due to human introduction into non-native ranges in both North America and Europe, they threaten to drive all other arboreal squirrels to extinction.

Technically, Woodchucks and other marmots are oversize burrowing ground squirrels, but we'll treat them separately here. The smaller ground squirrels are not generally of culinary interest.

Squirrel was once significant in American cooking, particularly in the Southeast, but has fallen out of favor due to the inconvenience of catching, killing and dressing squirrels in our increasingly urbanized environment.   Photo by Aaron Logan distributed under Creative Commons Attribution 1.0

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Squirrel is the correct meat for an authentic Brunswick stew, but today people resort to using chicken. The inconvenient truth is, we need to eat more squirrels. They are woefully deficient in natural predators and are completely out of control. Dogs are too slow, cats just don't care, hawks will ignore them all day in hopes of getting a pigeon, and owls, weasels and arboreal snakes are still avoiding urban areas.

The fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) plaguing our urban forests here in California are not native but were brought from the East Coast and released by some total moron. These squirrels are highly destructive to fruit and nut crops and to our homes. A single squirrel can strip a whole fruit tree in a couple days. They pick a not quite ripe fruit, take one bite, throw the fruit away and pick another. 80% of what they take is wasted.

They are also noted for raiding bird feeders and digging up flower bulbs and eating them. If there is even the smallest opening they get into attics to build nests and pee. If there isn't an opening they'll try to gnaw their way in, destroying siding and other woodwork.

Despite questionable legality, many homeowners around here have resorted to high power pellet rifles with telescopic sights. These probably account for hundreds of squirrels every year, but there are always more,

Of course you could set traps, but squirrels are clever and hard to trap - and then what do you do with them? It's illegal to release these alien squirrels anywhere in California. The most reasonable solution is to kill them, dress them and cook them. Unfortunately few in our urban environment are up to doing this.

I confess I haven't done it myself, yet, but it's definitely on my list of things to do, as is making an authentic Brunswick stew. I need to set up an outdoors cutting board.

Health & Nutrition

Squirrels are the primary carriers of plague in Southern California (and practically everywhere else).

Squirrels may not be strictly vegetarian, so they should be cooked well to avoid the possibility of trichinosis. In Russia a pack of squirrels was seen to kill a dog and eat it.

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